GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 16, 2013

Fence stirs questions at Fort hotel site

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — An SUV navigated the tight corner of a chain link fence newly erected Monday at what was formerly the Birdseye site — and what hotel proponents hope will become the location of a new waterfront hotel.

The almost 90-degree heat rose off the lot and encouraged people beneath beach umbrellas to head into the water at Pavilion Beach, where stand-up paddle boarders pushed across the surface.

But while Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the chain link fence, labeled as temporary, was not meant to discourage beach goers nor paddlers, neither she nor hotel proponents specified its actual purpose, except to point to legal appeals against the hotel as being at the root of the need for the fence.

“(The hotel project) is under appeal, and my biggest fear is the last time a chain link fence went up around an opposed development, it was up for 25 years,” Kirk said, alluding to the I-4, C-2 property on Rogers Street. “I just wanted to put it out there as a reminder to the community that we have to find a way to move around these battles.”

Attorneys representing Beauport LLC, Cruiseport owner Sheree DeLorenzo’s team working to build a 101-room hotel on the property, did not return calls for comment Monday.

But Michael Faherty, the land attorney who represents Mortillaro’s Lobster Co. in an appeal of the Conservation Commissions’ issuance of its order of conditions, the order of resource area delineation, the Chapter 91 license, and the special permit for the project, said he believes the mayor stands on one side of that chain linked fence.

“Is the mayor on the Beauport payroll?” he quipped, after seeing her social media postings about the fence, which included the connection to the 25-year barrier at I-4, C-2.

He said Beauport LLC has filed no claims against the Mortillaros regarding the lot.

“It just seems childish and also irresponsible for her to use a site that is the mayor’s tweet site to start making allegations like this,” Faherty added.

He pointed to the city’s not having completed its plans for hotel and Fort water and sewer infrastructure and having lost a state grant for the work. Because the city could not meet a requirement to break ground on the infrastructure work by the end of spring, the city essentially forfeited a $3 million MassWorks grant to fund infrastructure and that was contingent on the hotel bringing new jobs to the city.

The city administration blames the legal challengers to the project for the delayed groundbreaking, saying that the city looked at pending appeals and decided to hold off on its own.

But Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale confirmed Monday that the city has yet to complete plans for the $7.5 million water and sewer Fort infrastructure work, which is to be partially funded by up to $2 million in Beauport LLC money and largely through the MassWorks Grant, and with city funds making up the difference.

“The fact that the financing plan is up in the air has kind of left us rethinking where we’re going with this,” Hale said of the infrastructure plan. “It’s got nothing to do with the hotel. Our process is our process.”

Hale did connect the appeals to the process in one way, saying that the appeals led, in part, to the lack of construction, which city administrators controversially claim caused the city to lose the grant.

“As time goes by the appeals have just kind of slowed down the process, even for us,” he said.

Though no one speculated as to how temporary the fence is, signs defining the gateless chain link fence as belonging to B-Quip Temporary Fence Rental out of New Hampshire, seem to suggest that the fence is not permanent.

The linked fence lines the edge of the lot that faces Commercial Street. A vehicle-width gap in the fence runs parallel to another stretch of fencing, forcing cars to turn out around the second piece of fencing as they enter the lot. Another stretch of fence along Commercial Street seals off a loading dock.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.